Now that the centenary Giro d'Italia has come to a close, before we analyze the riders and the tactics of the race itself, it should first be stated that thanks to Universal Sports, we the cycling public were treated to all the drama and excitement of a three week tour that normally we never would have seen.
Sunday, May 31, 2009
Dream Weavers: NBC Universal Answers Cycling Fan's Prayers, Delivers Centenary Giro d'Italia Daily to Millions
Friday, May 29, 2009
Tom Boonen has turned in positive tests for cocaine three times over the last two years. In 2008, his out of competition result kept him from racing the Tour de France, and the organizers of the world's biggest bike race seem once again poised to omit the Belgian super star from the 2009 edition. Boonen's boss, Quick Step manager Patrick Lefevre has stated that he and the sponsor will fight the ban, in hopes that their best sprinter will have a chance to contest the three week stage race.
Lost in the commotion though is the issue of whether racing the tour de France is the best thing for Tom Boonen at this stage in his life. Should he be allowed to race despite what appears to be a significant problem with an illicit, illegal drug? On the surface he seems calm and ready, but are there underlying issues that he should address first before returning to competition?
This question is an uncomfortable one for many reasons. Boonen is an enormously popular rider, and EP ranks him among our favorites. But should we all overlook yet another transgression strictly fom our own selfish desires to see the "Tornado" race? Or would it be better for us to support his ban, hence encouraging him to address his deep personal issues before they get out of control?
Boonen is at the top of his game, having taken a third title at Paris-Roubaix only a few months ago. Although not the world's fastest sprinter, he is nevertheless still a huge protagonist during the flat stages at any given race, and would add an interesting dynamic to the hunt for the green sprinter's jersey at the Tour. To see him take on Thor Hushovd, Mark Cavendish and the other top sprinters would be beautiful and dynamic. But is it the right thing to do?
Tom Boonen, if he can put his cocaine use behind him once and for all, will continue to be one of cycling's biggest stars for many years to come. He'll contest, and probably win, many stages at upcoming Tours de France, but for 2009 he should be kept from competing from the event. His mental and physical health are far more important than the amount of wins he garners in the cycling world, and a happy and healthy Tom Boonen is what we should all be hoping for.
Although he'll be greatly missed (for the second year in a row) at this year's Tour de france, keeping Boonen away is the right decision not only for him, but for his fans and fellow competitors. If he is allowed to race, the message will be sent that as long as you're not using performance enhancing drugs, you should have a free hand to race. Young fans of Tom Boonon won't see cocaine for the destructive drug that it is, and his fellow competitors may consider loosening up their own standards when out of competition. For the good of all of cycling, hopefully Tom Boonen will be kept away from the French race come July, left instead to put his house back in order.
Thursday, May 28, 2009
News broke today that Australian sprinting legend Robbie McEwen has a broken tibia, and not only will miss the Tour de France, but may see his career end due to the injury. McEwen, racing at the Tour of Belgium, crashed hard during today's second stage, breaking his tibia in the process. This was the Aussie's second crash this month, and in addition to the break he also has ligament damage. He'll be out of the saddle a minimum of four months.
At 36 years old, an injury of this stature could well end McEwen's career. Known as a fiesty, fend for himself sprinter, McEwen never required the long lead out trains that fellow competitors Alessandro Petacchi or Mario Cipollini did. He was always able, sometimes a bit recklessly, to find the right gap at the right time, and over his career he racked up a slew of wins, including 12 stages and three green jerseys in the Tour de France, two Australian road race championships, 12 stages at the Giro d'Italia and myriad wins in smaller stage races throughout Europe.
McEwen is a certain Hall of Fame inductee and will be remembered as an unconventional, fearless sprinter who had a turn of speed in the final 500 meters that few could match. Never afraid to speak his mind, his feisty attitude will be missed at the highest level of the sport, and it is hoped if his pro career is in fact over that he'll remain in the sport to help further develop Australian cycling.
While doctors are calling into question whether McEwen will ride professionally again, his will to compete should not be counted out. He has been through very tough crashes before, and he'll likely not want to end his career on such a down note. Expect that the "Pocket Rocket" will put his all into a comeback, and don't be surprised to see him at the start line at the 2010 Tour Down Under this coming January.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Mighty Mighty Tour de Nez 2009: Fan Competitions, Evening Block Parties, Movies and More Mean Big Fun for Reno/Tahoe Fans
The 18th annual Mighty Mighty Tour de Nez presented by Northstar-at-Tahoe stage race and bicycle festival is slotted to run from June 17-21 this year, and race promoter Tim Healion and his staff have been working overtime to ensure that the fans watching all the racing action are fully immersed in the Mighty Mighty Tour de Nez experience. Healion's stage race is known as the "Coolest Cycling Race in the World," and 2009 promises to be as exciting and engaging as past editions.
There are several highlights on the docket for fans this year, with both traditional and new offerings on tap. For the first day of racing in downtown Truckee, there will be the usual evening block party after the day's racing, where fans will be able to gather for live music, home-cooked food and drinks. Prices for the bar-b-que will range from $10-$20, with Moody's Bar & Grill and the Bar of America providing catered gourmet offerings to those on hand for the celebration. The band for the evening will be "Drinking with Clowns," the Latin/Hip Hop/Reggae band out of Reno, Nevada.
The next day in downtown Reno, a new family experience will be presented after the race, as the Reno amphitheater will show the 1980's cycling classic "Breaking Away." Additionally, the Reno Jazz Youth Orchestra will perform ahead of the movie, offering families yet another excellent post-race option to continue the celebration into the evening hours. For those over 21, several local area bars will be hosting after parties, with cold drinks and live music once again on offer.
For the final day's racing at the Village-at-Northstar, live music will play throughout the evening in the main gathering area at the Village. Catered food courtesy of Northstar's world-renowned chefs will be for sale to all fans, as the party concludes at the posh Lake Tahoe resort. As the final day of the event, the Village celebration should last far into the evening, as the crowd on hand closes out yet another successful Tour de Nez event.
In addition to the after parties and celebrations, there will also be all new fan competitions during each day of racing. Race promoters have come up with three competitions for each day of racing, with prizes on offer for each contest. The three categories will include "Best Cycling-Inspired Outfit," "Best Hand-Made Cycling Sign," and "Coolest/Most Original Clunker." One prize will be awarded for each category on each day of racing.
For the "Best Cycling-Inspired Outfit," the winner on each day will take home a brand-new Chrome messenger bag. For those winners in the "Best Hand-Made Cycling Sign" category, more gear will be on offer, including Pearl Izumi and Limar cycling gear. For the "Coolest/Most Original Clunker" winners on each day, official Tour de Nez merchandise will be awarded, including two Tour de Nez watter bottles, a Tour de Nez t-shirt, leader's jersey and baseball cap.
Finally, each day of racing will feature crowd primes for both the men's and women's pro competitions. A prime, or a cash prize awarded to an individual rider first across the line on a given lap, is a great opportunity for fans to "own a piece of the Tour de Nez." In donating money for the crowd prime, the fans will be able to have a direct affect on the outcome of the racing, as the peloton battles for the cash prize ahead of the finish of each race. Additionally, the top donator for each crowd prime will also be offered to come up onto the announcing stage to view the finish of the racing action, a nice perk for their generosity.
As it has every year, the Mighty Mighty Tour de Nez will bring the dynamic and colorful world of cycling the the thousands on hand to take part in the event in both the Reno and Lake Tahoe area. From the professional cyclists competing in the races to the fans cheering them on, all will leave the five day event knowing that they took part in "The Coolest Bike Race in America."
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
As the centenary Giro d'Italia heads into its final week, there are still big plot lines that will unfold over the coming stages. While many riders are all but eliminated in the GC hunt, there nevertheless are still many interesting story lines to follow for the remainder of the race. Those that EP will be paying particular attention to follow below.
Monday, May 25, 2009
Bernhard Kohl has retired for good from the sport of cycling, claiming that it is impossible to win at the highest level of the sport without doping. So, as the Giro d'Italia is contested among a select handful of elite climbers, Kohl sits in front a microphone, and makes sweeping allegations regarding the best athletes in the sport of cycling. Not only were Kohl's comments ill-timed, but they are frivolous and irresponsible.
Posted by Briggs at 9:39 AM
Friday, May 22, 2009
The New Levi Leipheimer: Astana Leader Gaining Confidence, Instilling Fear In 2009 Giro d'Italia Peloton
The 2009 cycling season has seen Levi Leipheimer go from unsure "gregario" to confident team leader behind excellent stage race performances across the world. From his dominating third victory in a row at the Tour of California to his surprise overall win at the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon, Leipheimer has exhibited an inner confidence not seen in previous seasons. And just today Velonews has an article with quotes from Levi promising that he will attack in hopes of taking the overall title when the time is right in this year's Giro.
Levi Leipheimer has slowly and steadily gotten himself to the place he is now with hard work, patience, and an unending desire to improve year over year. Now settled in at Astana and under the watchful eye of Johan Bruyneel, Leipheimer has continued to improve, and 2009 has seen him transition from a grand tour outlier to a bonifide favorite in 2009. He currently sits in third place overall in this year's Giro, and obviously has good form and a calm mind heading into the final weeks of the Giro.
Whether Leipheimer will actually be able to attack is still to be determined, but his quotes in the Velonews article show just how far he has come as a stage race team leader. Back in 2005, riding as the stage race leader of the now defunct Gerolsteiner team, Leipheimer spoke of wanting to win a stage or two in a few races, or go for a top ten in the grand tours. Today, that talk has been replaced by a quiet confidence, and true belief that he can win a grand tour, not just a stage.
Whether Leipheimer will end up winning this year's Giro is still uncertain. Rabobank's Denis Menchov is riding very strong, as are several Italians. But Leipheimer has one thing that none of the other GC hopes do: a superior team. The Astana squad is a true stage racing juggernaut, and they are more than capable of blowing a race apart on behalf of their team leader. Expect the Leipheimer will be given every opportunity to seize victory for himself in the Giro, as his teammates will surely tear themselves apart to place in the best possible position to win. And if the recent past is any indicator, the Santa Rosa resident will come correct when the chips are down.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
The Giro's long, up and down time trial is now in the books, with Denis Menchov the big winner on the day. Not only did Rabobank's Russian take the win on the stage, but he also took enough time out of Danilo Di Luca to earn his first Maglia Rosa. Menchov is riding very strong, and the only thing that may limit his ability to win the centenary Giro will be the strength of his team and their ability to support him for the remainder of the race. There were a slew of other things we learned on the day, some of which follow below.
Levi Leipheimer, like Menchov, took a lot of time out of his rivals on stage 12. He is positioned well heading into the last half of the Giro, and he'll likely be Menchov's number one rival going forward. He has a stronger team than Menchov, which could mean that the Giro may see its first American overall winner since 1988.
Michael Rogers, although a great time trialist, was simply not up to the task in stage 12 and is now riding the Giro for training. His short fall in what is usually his signature discipline will be a mental blow to him and his team, and he'll hope to regain some confidence over the remaining stages of the tour. He always comes into grand tours as a GC favorite, but now it seems as though talk of him as a grand tour winner should calm down until he is able to demonstrate that he can be consistent over the course of a three week tour.
Ivan Basso is no longer the rider he was before his suspension for "attempted doping." In fact, as the Giro continues, it seems that he may have done more than attempted to dope two seasons ago. He put in an acceptable, if pedestrian, time trial today, and now sits three minutes behind Menchov on the GC. Considering he won the 2006 Giro by nine minutes, it is a marked change for the beloved Italian, who now will be reduced to a support role after Franco Pellizotti's time trial ride, 50 seconds faster than Basso's.
Danilo Di Luca is not lacking in the "grinta" category, and he put in a brave ride in the time trial, where he forfeited just under two minutes to Menchov. Thanks to an intelligently ridden first half of the Giro though, he is only 34 seconds behind on the GC, and looks ideally positioned to battle for the pink jersey for the remainder of the race. He has been the best climber thus far in the Giro, and he seems well-positioned to try for his second overall win in his home tour.
Carlos Sastre is lurking in fifth place, and is down by 2:52 to Menchov. He probably won't be able to unseat Menchov or Leipheimer on the GC, but if he puts in one of his signature attacks on one of the upcoming mountain stages, he could put Di Luca and Pellizotti in deep trouble. A top three overall performance is still well within reach for Sastre, as he continues his build up to the Tour de France.
Stefano Garzelli, although out of the GC hunt, has been one of the most exciting riders in the 100th edition of the Giro d'Italia. He has been on a long solo breakaway, and to put in such a great performance in the tough time trial hints at his class as a cyclist and competitor. His best days as a rider have surely passed him by, but he is nevertheless making his mark on this edition of the Giro d'Italia. Hopefully he'll manage to win the mountain jersey, a deserved prize for the aging Italian veteran.
Although he finished more than two and a half minutes off of Menchov's winning pace, Lance Armstrong showed that he is getting stronger as the Giro goes on. He'll ride in support of Leipheimer for the remainder of the Giro, before putting the finishing touches on his form for July's Tour de France. Alberto Contador will be the leader for Astana, but with one slip up the Texan will assume leadership duties. Adding to the drama is the potential for Astana to be under a different name come July. If Armstrong controls ownership of the team by then, expect Contador to be compelled to take a back seat to the 7-time overall Tour winner.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
With one of the most important stages of the centenary Giro d'Italia on tap for tomorrow, the brutal 60.6 kilometer individual time trial, several top riders are in with a chance to snatch the pink jersey away from current leader Danilo Di Luca. With the highly irregular nature of the stage, very long at 60+ kilometers and featuring tough climbs and twisting descents, a non-specialist has as good a chance as a pure time trialist to have a good ride. Below follows EP's summation of the top favorites and their chances for a solid ride tomorrow.
1. Michael Rogers has to be considered the number one favorite to win the day tomorrow. He has a good combination of climbing, time trialing and descending skills to draw on, and he'll be motivated to take as much time as possible out of the climbing specialists ahead of the final week of racing. His form is good as well, and with the momentum that his Columbia team is riding thus far in 2009, it would be no surprise to see him take the win.
2. Denis Menchov also has a nice skill set with which to tackle tomorrow's stage, and his form is clearly good after a great first week at the Giro. The Russian is underrated at every race he goes to---which is just how he likes it. The two-time Vuelta a Espana winner will be highly motivated to do a good ride tomorrow, and with a win in the TT will be well-positioned for the overall win heading into the last half of this year's Giro.
3. Danilo Di Luca has found respect hard to come by thus far in the Giro. Despite winning two stages and building a sizable advantage heading into the time trial tomorrow, people are still convinced that he'll lose minutes in the time trial. However, he has the pink jersey in the centennial edition of his home tour, and very good from at the moment. He'll do much better than the "experts" are predicting, and is in with a real chance to hold onto the jersey at the end of tomorrow's stage. If he does, he'll be hard to unseat as the leader going forward.
4. Ivan Basso is under pressure, whether he wants to admit it or not. If he can't put in a superb time trial tomorrow, he'll find himself out of the running for his main target of the year. And even with a great ride, he'll still need to ride very strong in the remaining stages of the Giro if he is to win the event. With his entire season hinging on tomorrow' s racing, expect Basso to put in maximum effort on the day and finish among the leaders. Whether he'll be able to get close to pink is another question entirely, but he'll definitely contend for the win on the stage.
5. Levi Leipheimer was one of the top favorites to win the TT only a day ago, but a tough crash in today's stage 11 probably bumps him down a few pegs. Road rash hurts, and can sometimes dramatically affect performance, and having a crash the day before such a tough stage is not ideal for the American. He'll likely be able to limit his losses, but a win would be a huge surprise considing his physical status after his crash.
6. Carlos Sastre is a smart, cagy veteran capable of finding a way to win in the face of adversity. If you don't believe that statement, ask Cadel Evans. Sastre beat him for the overall title at last year's Tour de France after putting in a great time trial ride against the Aussie, solidifying his victory. The course tomorrow suits his skills, and Sastre may end up being the surprise of the day. If he can stay upright, a top five is well within reach. He'll be very dangerous heading into the final week of the Giro. A podium placing on the overall is looking more likely by the day.
7. Like Sastre, Lance Armstrong is getting stronger each day. He has ridden at the front for some of the big climbs, including on Tuesday's stage 10, and he'll want to put in maximum effort for the time trial to guage exactly where he stands against the other big GC riders. He probably won't win, but he'll finish higher than many expect. With a bit of luck he could go top five even.
There are several wild cards that could put in good performances as well in tomorrow's time trial. Stefano Garzelli is riding well, and could be a factor. Also of note is Lampre's Marzio Bruseghin, winner of last year's mountain time trial at the Giro. His teammate Damiano Cunego however will not be among the top finishers. His 2009 (and possibly future) overall Giro hopes are gone. Liquigas' Franco Pellizotti will be around the top of the resuts, and a good ride from Ag2R's Tadej Valjkavic is not out of the question either.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Danilo Di Luca has continued to defy his detractors throughout this centenary Giro d'Italia, and once again the LPR team captain was able to outclass a powerful field to take the win in the Italian tour's queen stage. Di Luca went clear with liquigas leiutenant Franco Pellizotti on the final climb, and then used his descending skills to disctance a hard charging group of GC favorites.
When the dust had settled on the day, Di Luca had not only taken the stage win, but he also managed to take more time out of his top rivals in the tour. He finished ahead of Carlos Sastre, Denis Menchov and Pellizotti by ten seconds, and took 29 seconds from top favorites Ivan Basso, Levi Leipheimer, and Michael Rogers. As he has done in every mountian stage, Damiano Cunego lost more time on the stage, this time 1:34.
In the GC standings, Di Luca leads Menchov by 1:20, Rogers by 1:33, while the rest of the top contenders are all two minutes or less behind the LPR star. With Thursday's long hilly time trial on tap, Di Luca is looking more like a favorite to win the overall as each day passes. If he can put in a good time trial and limit his losses on Thursday, there is no reason to believe that he can't take top honors by the end of the race. Even if he doesn't win the overall though, Di Luca's Giro will be viewed as having been an overwhelming success.
For the other GC contenders there is still much hope, but the pressure now grows for each to put in a sublime time trial effort on Thursday. Ivan Basso, trailing by 2:03, will need a great ride if he is to take pink on Thursday. Likewise for Leipheimer, Sastre and Lovkvist. Thursday will probably see Di Luca beaten by many of his rivals, but with such a nice cushion of time heading into the event he'll be able to ride relaxed and confident, knowing that he will still be within striking distance of the overall heading into the final week of racing.
After tomorrow's flat stage, expect to see many serious faces amongst the GC contenders in the start house for the time trial. The favorites on the day will include Basso, Menchov, and Leipheimer, but perhaps the top favorite will be Columbia's Mick Rogers. The Aussie has ridden a very intelligent Giro thus far, and as a former world time trial champion he has the chops to put in a great time on Thursday.
For riders like Sastre and Di Luca, it will be interesting to see how successful they can be on such a long time trial. Yes there are climbs on the route, but still it is a race against the clock. History suggests that smaller, pure climbers have trouble keeping up with the bigger engines in a time trial, so it will be interesting to see whether these smaller riders can maintain or even thrive out on the race course on Thursday.
Monday, May 18, 2009
The centenary Giro d'Italia has come to the point when major changes are about to happen to the GC picture. After an exciting first week of racing, tomorrow's stage 10 will take the riders over some serious mountains, and there will surely be a shaking out among the GC contenders for the race. Although Thursday's long time trial looms large in the minds of all of the contenders, the mountains beckon first, and those that are not prepared will see their GC hopes dashed before they have a chance to separate themselves in the race of truth.
The stage should be a tough one, and by the end there will be four or five riders that should stand out as the clear Giro contenders heading into the last half of the race. Ivan Basso and his Liquigas team are sure to animate this stage in hopes of eliminating some of the Italian's rivals. Now that Franco Pellizotti is out of the GC hunt, expect the "Dolphin" to set the pace for Basso before launching his teammate on the final ascent.
Behind Basso will be two or three other strong contenders, among them Danilo Di Luca, Levi Leipheimer, Denis Menchov, Carlso Sastre and Columbia's duo of Mick Rogers and Thomas Lovkvist. Of these contenders, Leipheimer and Menchov seem the most threatening to Basso. Both are great time trialists, and each of them has proven thus far that they are on great form for the year's first grand tour. Di Luca, though currently in the race lead, still has to prove that he can maintain cadence on the long upcoming climbs of the Giro. If he is among the top finishers tomorrow, he will demand consideration as a legitimate overall threat.
Carlos Sastre may the man to try his hand tomorrow, as he'll need to take time on the remaining mountain stages if he is to win this year's Giro. He should put in a solid time trial on Thursday, but it is in the mountains that he truly gains the most time. If he has good legs, expect that the Spaniard will spark the decisive move on the final climb tomorrow.
Columbia will have two hands to play, so Lovkvist and Rogers may be able to put some tactical pressure on the rest of the group. With both riders attacking at opportune times, they will be harder to mark. If one or the other has particularly great legs, one of them could end up in pink by the end of the day.
Another specialist to watch tomorrow will be Gilberto Simoni. The veteran is surely on his last Giro go around, and he is running out of chances to show himself at the front of the race. He'll hope for good form heading into tomorrow, with a stage victory top of mind for the two time Giro champ. Another climbing ace who will hope for a big day will be Juan Mauricio Soler. The Barloworld rider has much to prove yet in this Giro, and tomorrow would be a good day for him to try to escape alone to garner many of the mountian points up for grabs on tomorrow's stage.
As the Giro heats up, each rider will have to dig deeper than at any other point thus far in the race. A moment's inattention or hesitation could see the overall title lost for any of the favorites and each will depend as much on their team as themselves during tomorrow's grueling stage. Look for Basso's squad to dominate for the duration of the stage, with the big favorites waiting until about 10 kilometers left in the stage to show their form.
Sunday, May 17, 2009
The Giro d'Italia organizers should be commended. They thought up an interesting if unconventional race route for the 100th edition, and fans have been treated to inspired and exciting racing throughout the event's first week. Combining inventive race routes and uncharacteristic stage placements, the 100th edition of the Giro will be remembered as much for the racing it it will be for the inventive routes the peloton tackled each day.
Posted by Briggs at 11:38 AM
Thursday, May 14, 2009
Mike Creed, for anyone in the know on the domestic cycling scene, is one cool cat. Always present with a knowing smile and good word ahead of a given race, Creed is also known as a consummate professional who is willing to go the extra mile in support of his teammates in a given race. Creed was recently dumped unceremoniously by the Rock Racing team a few weeks back, and the likable pro considered retiring from the sport due to lack of offers for a contract elsewhere.
However, his situation changed for the better a few days ago when Team Type 1 stepped up and secured his services for the remainder of the season. Creed, typically ready to go, has spoken recently about how excited he is to start fulfilling his contract for his new team. Likewise, it will probably be nice to try to exact some revenge on his old sponsor over the remainder of the 2009 season.
Rock Racing's owner Michael Ball said there was nothing personal to Creed's being let go. Creed disagreed. Referencing his termination from the US Postal squad after a two year stint, Creed described that if Johan Bruyneel had enough time to call him and break the bad news amid directing the Vuelta a Espana, then certainly Michael Ball should have made the time as well. It is hard to disagree with Creed on that one.
Negativity aside though, Creed is now back in the game and ready to roll for the final half of the year. Expect to see him at the front of multiple races over the coming months, as he looks to repay the faith put in him by team management. There is no question though that he will be a valuable asset to the line up, and his involvement on the team should see Team Type 1 continue to be top contenders on the domestic circuit.
Mike Creed was just too good of a cyclist and team player to have been out of the cycling game for long. Between his can-do attitude, his sense of humor and his natural talent, he'll supercharge his new team for the remainder of the year. Congratulations to Team Type 1 for giving Mike Creed a chance. The American cycling scene is a better place with Creed involved!
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
The fifth stage of the centenary Giro d'Italia took the peloton once again to a summit finish, this time to the Alpe di Siusi climb. Many of the top protagonists from stage four were at the front of the race again for stage five, with a few exceptions. Lance Armstrong, slightly under form due to a collar bone break a few weeks ago lost significant time, as did the 2004 Giro winner Damiano Cunego. Meanwhile at the front it was Denis Menchov, who took a strong win out of a small group, besting stage four winner Danilo Di Luca and several other big GC threats on the day.
Menchov looked excellent throughout the stage, as he did what he does best: follow wheels and stay out of trouble. He was rarely at the front of the race until the very end, as he instead allowed Ivan Basso and his Liquigas team to do the lion's share of the pace making work on the way to the finish. Basso for his part also looked very strong, and was largely responsible for making the final selection of eight riders, among them Levi Leipheimer, Menchov, Carlos Sastre, Thomas Lovkwist, Di Luca, Chris Horner, and Caisse d'Epargne's David Arroyo.
Of the eight riders in the final selection, Menchov, Basso, Di Luca and Leipheimer looked the strongest. While it was Basso who made the pace on the final ascent, the other three had no problem staying on his wheel, and each looked calm and collected throughout the day's racing. For Leipheimer today was a decisive day, as Armstrong lost enough time to now thrust Leipheimer into the undisputed role of team leader for the remainder of the Giro. His teammate Chris Horner, showing his class yet again as a top domestique, was simply amazing in staying with some of the best climbers in the world. it was a shame that he didn't have just a little bit extra horsepower to finish off the stage with a push for the win.
Carlos Sastre, as he is wont to do on a mountain stage, put in a nice dig at the end to start the sprint for the line, but came up a bit short and conceded a few seconds at the end to Menchov. Still, it is a good sign that Sastre is active as his form continues to build over the next few days. Sastre gets stronger as a three week stage race heads into the final week, so he should be right in among the action until we arrive in Milan. Likewise he'll be ready for the Tour as well come July.
Danilo Di Luca didn't have quite enough to take his second win in as many days, but it doesn't matter as he is now the overall race leader after another great day in the mountains. He is looking more like a GC threat by the day as he continues to climb as well as, or better than, the other GC favorites. Providing he can keep up in the long hilly time trial on stage 12, he should be in with a legit chance at victory by the end of the race. It is amazing to see him climbing as well as he has thus far in the Giro. And despite the lack of strong team support, he seems to be strong enough to look out for himself on the long, steep climbs.
Thomas Lovkvist is turning into the revelation of this year's Giro. He rode extremely strong in the pink jersey today, and remains high up in the classification. His teammate Mick Rogers lost 22 seconds on the stage today, so the 25 year old may take over leadership duties from his Australian counter part for the remainder of the race. While it is unlikely that Lovkvist can maintain this high level of riding through the end of the Giro, it is not impossible. He'll take it day by day, under no pressure from his team or sponsor. Plus, even if he doesn't make the final podium he'll likely walk away with the best young rider jersey for the race, a title he has won or contended in at other contests as well..
There were a few disappointments on stage five for some of the GC favorites, and Lance Armstrong and Damiano Cunego were the hardest hit during the day's racing. Armstrong was dropped with about 10k remaining on the stage, and was paced by three of his teammates to the line. Still, he lost almost three minutes on the day, and is certainly out of the GC hunt. Cunego, despite his insistence that he can contend in the grand tours, was once again dropped in the high mountains, and lost over two and a half minutes. Like Armstrong, he is out of contention early in this year's Giro. Finally, Saxo Bank continued to underwhelm, with Lars Bak their best placed GC rider in 38th at about three muntes back.
Now that the GC battle has been clarified, it is looking like about 7 or 8 riders will be in with a chance for the overall title at this year's Giro. Among the favorites, Ivan Basso, Denis Menchov, Levi Leipheimer, and Danilo Di Luca seem to be the strongest riders at this point in the race. With so much racing remaining though, anything could happen in the coming days. Di Luca will have to be carefule in defending the pink jersey. It may be a good strategy for him to concede it for now and put the race leadership pressure on a stronger team. Either way though, this year's Giro is shaping up to be one of the most exciting in recent memory.
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
The centenary Giro d'Italia headed into the Dolomites today on only the 4th of 20 stages. An aggressive and unconventional parcours for the 100th edition continiued today, puttin the GC favorites front and center, and affording an opportunity to see who is going well and who still has some work left to do. The relatively easy climb that finished the day in San Martino di Castrozza didn't produce huge time gaps, but nevertheless there were still many significant happenings among the GC contenders on the day.
Monday, May 11, 2009
At long last, "Don" Alejandro Valverde has been sanctioned by the Italian authorities, not his own country Spain, for his obvious involvement in the Operacion Puerto debacle on the eve of the 2006 Tour de France. Italian authorities have successfully matched Valverde's 2008 sample to the blood bags confiscated during the Puerto raids, and the CONI has followed through with a two year ban for Valverde in Italy.
Sunday, May 10, 2009
Another Positive Cocaine Test for Tom Boonen Suggests a Serious Problem, Turning Point in Belgian's Career
Tom Boonen's second out of competition positive test for cocaine is sad not only for Boonen the athlete, but more importantly for Boonen the man. The Belgian superstar will face a judge in the future once again, and this time may see the 28 year old serve time for his mistake. Already on probation for using cocaine less than a year ago, it is hard to imagine that a judge will show leniency in light of recent occurrences.
Friday, May 8, 2009
The year's first grand tour, and my favorite of the three, the 100th Giro d'Italia, kicks off in Venice tomorrow with a team time trial. On the eve of this great event, EuroPeloton offers a few thoughts to ponder before the race action commences.
Ivan Basso has staked his entire season on the Giro. He has previewed all of the key stages of the event, and has his heart set on a second overall title. Anything less than the top spot on the GC podium will be viewed as a failure for the Italian. He is under huge pressure to have a great ride in his home tour for several reasons. Not only does he want to show that he is still the best Italian stage racer in the world, but he also wants to show that he can be as dominant as he was in 2006. Remember, he never admitted to doping, only attempting to do so. To back up the veracity of his claim he'll need a win at the Giro, nothing less.
Despite what some sites say, Stefano Garzelli has ZERO chance of winning the overall. He'll be lucky to win a stage.
Levi Leipheimer has yet to prove that he can lead a team to a grand tour victory. His form is great, his team is strong and his mind seems right. It's now or never for the Santa Rosa resident. He'll likely never get another chance to lead a team in a grand tour unless he can win this Giro.
Lance Armstrong, as he always does, is playing down his own chances in a grand tour. I think he'll be much better than he is saying, possibly even stealing leadership away from Leipheimer before all is said and done.
Mauricio Soler has been MIA over the past calendar year. He needs at least one good day in the high mountians to build his confidence ahead of the Tour de France.
Tyler Farrar is a tough, powerful rider who has the strength to get over the high mountains ahead of the other sprinters. With a bit of luck, he could take the points title at the Giro.
If Damiano Cunego doesn't manage a podium spot on the GC at the end of the Giro, his days trying to contend in the grand tours will be over. He can say he wants to contend all he wants, but until he actually does it he'll remain a one day/small stage race specialist only.
Franco Pellizotti is good enough a rider to be the team leader for Liquigas despite Ivan Basso. It will be very interesting to see if the "Dolphin" is willing to bow to Ivan from the gun or whether he'll conserve his energy and take a wait and see approach.
Danilo Di Luca, like Garzelli, has ZERO chance at the overall. He should concentrate on taking a mountain stage and the climber's jersey, far more attainable goals for the aging Italian star.
This will be Gilberto Simoni's last year as a professional bike racer. Hopefully he can wring one more stage win out of his home tour before he rides off into the sunset, or the mountians on his mountain bike!
Denis Menchov is the most dangerous rider in the Giro. No one is talking about him despite top five finishes in both the Giro and Tour last year. Sure his team is not the strongest, but it wasn't last year either. He'll go top three overall, at a minimum.
Mark Cavendish will win at least two stages in the Giro, and he'll do so loudly and with great personal fan fare, telling everyone who will listen that he is the best sprinter in the world. He'll win double that amount at the Tour in two months time.
Filippo Pozzato won't manage a single stage win. He'll come close, but with the sprinters assembled he'll be overmatched on the flats. His best chance at a win is out of a breakaway, which nevertheless is highly unlikely.
Fabian Cancellara must have a good time trial ride at the Giro in order to build his confidence for the Tour. He'll be fully focused for most of the Giro, and he'll likely capture a stage win as well.
Cancellara's teammate Lars Bak is a rider to watch for the GC. Although young and unproven, he is waaaay under the radar and will come to the Giro with no pressure. Under Bjarne Riis' tutelage, expect the youngster to put in a decent ride over the next three weeks.
Quick Step's Allan Davis, freed from the shackles of teammate Tom Boonen, will contend and possibly win one stage at the Giro. He is a strong sprinter riding for a team with low expectations for the Giro. He'll have his shot at glory, and history suggests that he'll make good on the opportunity.
The centenary edition of the Giro d'Italia promises to be one of the most exciting in recent years. From top-flight sprinters to International GC contenders, the tifosi in Italy and fans worldwide are sure to be entertained and on the edge of their seat of the next three weeks. Viva Italia!
Thursday, May 7, 2009
The Amgen Tour of California was officially moved to the month of May beginning in 2010, as America's biggest and most popular stage race will now run from May 16-23. In what was a bold and risky move by race organizers, the popular and lucrative stage race will now be able to make forays into the high mountains of California, and a stage in and around the Lake Tahoe region in 2010 is almost certain. The tough, rainy conditions of previous editions will likely not be an issue in May either.
What seems to be glossed over in the news though is that the AToC is now a direct competitor with the second biggest stage race in the world, the Giro d'Italia. Now 100 years old, Italy's home tour attracts a talented field each season, and will most certainly cause the talent level assembled in California to be significantly watered down.
While many riders who are not participating in the Giro will be able to ride in California, there will also be a host of the best stage race riders in the world who will be in Italy instead of California. First and foremost, there won;t be a single Italian willing to forsake his home tour in favor of the AToC. In looking at past AToC line ups, the following Italian riders would not ride California in previous years if it occupied a May slot in the world cycling calendar: Ivan Basso, Paolo Bettini, Vincenzo Nibali, Francesco Chicchi, Franco Pellizotti, Enrico Gasparotto, and Giovanni Visconti. A impressive list, and one that shows the precipitous decrease in talent that will surely occur with a new May date.
Additionally, there are other riders that are not Italian that would also likely miss the Tour due to committing to riding the Giro in the future: Fabian Cancellara, Mark Cavendish, Chris Horner, Janez Brajkovic, Levi Leipheimer, Denis Menchov, Christian Vande Velde, and David Zabriskie just to name a few. The argument could be made that the Americans would lobby to ride California instead of the Giro, but most sponsors are International and the Giro would be viewed as the bigger of the two races on a worldwide scale.
One factor that could change everything though is the enormous potential of the AToC. In just four short years the race has gained an almost mythical standing within the world of cycling, as top-flight riders like Tom Boonen, Cavendish and more have consistently sung the praises of the organization and lay out of the race. Now a strategic partner with ASO, the organizers of the Tour de France, the Amgen Tour of California organizers may believe that they can take on the Giro head on. Perhaps they have a vision that they are not sharing with the public at this time. Could they perhaps be positioning themselves as a grand tour in the near future? And would the Giro possibly be forced to consider changing when their race takes place on the calendar in order to stay viable? The idea seems unthinkable right now, but with the way the AToC has grown year over year, it could become a reality for the Giro in the near future.
At this point it is far too early to predict what will unfold over the next few seasons. One thing is for certain though, and that is that if the Amgen Tour of California is to remain viable, they must find a way to continue to attract the best bike riders in the world to their event. And based on their past dealings within the sport, they have earned the benefit of the doubt. If they moved the event to May they had a compelling reason to do so, a reason that the public may not see until years form now. So until then, cycling fans in America will watch and wait, hoping to see the wisdom of this brash decision.
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
Polar Opposites: Bobridge on the Rise, Pfannberger On the Outs as Clean Riders are Rewarded While Dopers Continue to Get Caught
Jack Bobridge made headlines early on in the 2009 season as he rode a strong Tour Down Under, competing against the likes of Lance Armstrong, Stuey O'Grady and others in the week long season opening stage race. Several months later in Belgium and France, Katusha's Christian Pfannberger made similar headlines with strong performances in the hilly classics. He garnered top results and featured prominantly in the finales of each of the three hilly Wallonnian classics.
Today though, each rider seems headed in completely different directions. Bobridge, all of 19 years of age and with a limitless ceiling, is headed to his first Pro Tour contract with the Garmin-Slipstream outfit, while Pfannberger is poised to be banned from the sport for life after his second positive test for doping. Following in the footsteps of countryman Bernhard Kohl, Pfannberger drags the country of Austria through the mud once again. In fact, Austria is now looking like one of the most doping-dirty countries in the world as there have been multiple reports of doping within the country.
While yet another positive test for a highly successful pro is demoralizing for the cycling public, we need to take heart. Riders, regardless of their level of talent, are continuing to be caught cheating. With continued efforts, the noose is tightening by the day, and hopefully the peloton is beginning to finally realize that if they cheat, eventually they will be caught. While it is a shame that it takes as long as it does, nevertheless it is a good thing. Riders like Pfannberger have no place in professional cycling, and hopefully the Austrian will be blocked from ever coming back into the sport, even as a coach or advisor.
Bobridge meanwhile should be a reminder to all of us as to why we continue to fight doping and support the great sport of cycling. An immense talent already, it is scary to think how great a rider Bobridge will be in a few years time. Surrounded by solid mix of talent in Garmin-Slipstream, Bobridge should flourish over the coming years as he grows into a perennial contender.
How far Bobridge can go is anyone's guess. With dedication, attention to detail and a humble attitude he should be able to seriously contend in big time races within the next two years. For Pfannberger, the future is decidedly more bleak. Once a promising U-23 rider, national champion, and solid road pro, Pfannberger will fade into cycling obscurity, yet another footnote in the war against doping. Good riddance to bad seeds, and welcome Jack Bobridge to the big time. May you dominate for years to come!
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
With the 100th edition of the Giro d'Italia on tap to begin this Sunday in Venice, now is the time to begin looking at some of the riders participating in the race as a means of predicting who will have the most success over the course of the three week event. First up, the sprinters, ranked in order of predicted influence on the race.
1. Mark Cavendish, the undisputed fastest man in cycling, will undoubtedly take at least one stage, and with some luck he may be able to manage three or more wins during his time at the race. He is expected to drop out of the race at a time of his choosing to put the final touches on his Tour de France preparation.
2. Alessandro Petacchi will come into the Giro as the second fastest rider, well behind Cavendish. If "Ale-Jet" has to contend with Cavendish one up he'll get his doors blown off, but with a few good lead outs from his LPR team he could find himself with a stage or two for his troubles. How much support GC leader Danilo Di Luca receives could affect Petacchi's success though, as some of the team members will no doubt not be able to help the winner of 19 career stages of the Giro take his 20th. He holds the post-war record for wins in a single edition of the Giro with nine though, so winning one stage seems likely.
3. Filippo Pozzato, although not a pure sprinter, has enough of a finishing kick that he should feature prominently in most of the flatter stages. An escape artist with decent climbing skills as well, Pozzato will look to take over the sprint leadership duties due to the absence of veteran Robbie McEwen from Katusha's Giro line up.
4. Tyler Farrar, coming off a tough crash at the Milan-San Remo race may be a bit behind on his form, but he is nevertheless a force to be reckoned with in the sprints. In fact, assuming that Cavendish drops out at some point in the race, Farrar may be a long shot for the points jersey. Plus with Christian Vande Velde using the Giro only as prep for the Tour de France, Farrar should enjoy some decent team support over the three week event.
5. Juan Jose Haedo hasn't really proven himself capable of mixing it up with the big boys in Europe yet, but that doesn't mean he doesn't have the tools to succeed. When on form Haedo is overpowering, and with relatively low GC expectations for the Saxo Bank squad, the Argentinian should have some help from his teammates in being delivered into position over the final few hundred meters of select stages. With a bit of luck, the 2009 Giro may end up being remembered as the day JJ became relevant on the international level.
6. Robbie Hunter, riding for the Barloworld team, has been quiet thus far in 2009, but he has a strong pedigree in grand tours and will be the outright leader of the Barloworld squad, at least for the flat stages. Capable of making his own sprint without much help from teammates, expect to see Hunter latched onto with Cavendish's or Petacchi's wheel for select stages, looking for the perfect chance to pounce.
7. Allan Davis, the winner of the first Pro Tour event of the year, the Tour Down Under, flies largely under the radar due to the star power of many of his teammates. But make no mistake, Davis has a vicious finishing sprint, and with a bit of support is capable of upsetting the best in the world, including Cavendish. With a young team along side him at the Giro he may find himself tactically behind the eight ball, but great legs can sometimes make up for lack of tactics. Davis is a tough, resilient sprinter who can come out of nowhere to take an unexpected win, even in a grand tour.
8. Mattia Gavazzi, though lesser-known on the International scene, can sprint with the best and will hope to garner some positive press for his Serramenti PVC Diquigiovanni-Androni Giocattoli team after the recent spate of allegations against former team leader Davide Rebellin. Gavazzi has five wins already on the year, including wins over Petacchi and Bennati. He'll have sky-high confidence heading into his home tour, where he'll look to impress his tifosi with a win against the odds.
9. Robert Forster of team Milram has taken wins in the Giro before, and he'll be primed to deliver for the only remaining German Pro Tour team in professional cycling. A winner of two stages in 2007, Forster is cagey and well-equipped to battle for wins when the road is flat. After a down 2008, he'll hope to regain his winning form for the Giro.
10. Pedro Horrillo will fly the flag for the Rabobank team in the sprints, as they arrive at the Giro without their ace Oscar Freire. Horrillo though, as his teammate Peter Weening will attest, is a good sprinter, and is capable of contending in the sprint finishes. Because he is constantly leading out Freire he is not as well known, but that may well play to his favor come race time in Italy.
The ten riders listed above will be the main protagonists in the sprints during the Giro. With the mountains coming so early on in the Tour though, several of these riders could find themselves eliminated on time if they are not able to arrive at the finish each day within 25% of the winner's time. After the first week, we could end up seeing that there are only a few sprinters left to contend on the remaining flat stages. Still, over the first couple of stages the action should be hectic and dangerous as each of the above riders tries to take a win before those much-feared hills arrive on day five.
Monday, May 4, 2009
Andreas Kloden had a nice start to his 2009 season, and until very recently it seemed likely that the German would be included on the Astana Giro d'Italia team. However, with the recent resurfacing of doping allegations against him, Kloden's name is not on the provisional start list for the centenary edition of the Italian stage race, perhaps forecasting his eventual demise within the Astana team.
What will happen next for Kloden is anyone's guess, but history would suggest that he will likely be fired by the Astana team in the near future. Johan Bruyneel, at least during his tenure at Astana, has had a short fuse for riders who have been tarnished by allegations of doping. Vladimir Gusev, despite not having tested positive for any form of doping, was let go by Astana for what the team said were irregular blood values. Although still without a team, Gusev has not been sanctioned and is eligible to race professionally.
Kloden will have a tense next few weeks as he waits for Astana management to pass judgement on his situation. Things though are not looking good for the German. At 33 years old Kloden's career would likely be over were he to be sanctioned, and it is equally unlikely that he would pick up with another team if Astana were to fire him. His only hope is that the investigation into his past practices bogs down or that the attention switches to a different scandal. If that doesn't happen, Kloden may soon find himself reunited in a negative way with ex-teammate Jan Ullrich, on the outside looking in.
Sunday, May 3, 2009
Roman Kreuziger, the 22 year old Czech phenom of the Liquigas team took his second major stage race title at the Tour of Romandy with an impressive display of power riding on the decisive mountain stage into Sainte-Croix. Kreuziger is an immense talent on the world cycling scene, and with his victory at Romandy he now has thrust himself into favorite status for the July Tour de France. Alongside Andy Schleck of the Saxo Bank team, Kreuziger will be a dominant force on the cycling scene for many years to come.
Posted by Briggs at 12:52 PM
Friday, May 1, 2009
Trying to find out the talent level in domestic American cycling as compared to the Pro tour riders across the pond? Look no further than the Tour of the Gila in New Mexico to see the profound difference. The Astana trio of Levi Leipheimer, Lance Armstrong and Chris Horner have dominated the first three stages of the stage race despite only being three men. Leipheimer, after attacking on the final climb of stage 1, took the leader's jersey at Gila and then extended his lead today in the individual time trial. He beat his closest competitor by about a minute.
The talent level of the American domestic peloton, over the past several years, has vastly improved. It has become a genuine breeding ground for hard-nosed Euro-ready pros, but the level of talent racing in America as compared to the Pro T0ur is still far inferior. Some will read this and think that this article is a slight against American domestic pros, but that is not the intention. The point of this article iis merely to illustrate just how much talent is required to hold down a spot on a Pro Tour team.
Leipheimer looks like a lock to win the Gila despite having only two other teammates to rely on to control the race. However, his three man squad is so much better than the other full contingents that it doesn't matter that they are short handed. In fact, if Astana had a full team in New Mexico, they would likely sweep the GC podium. So much better are these Pro Tour level riders that they can win at will against a domestic field.
While a typical domestic pro will rarely compete in a race longer than 100 miles, for a Pro Tour rider these longer stages are common place. Chris Horner is so fit that he was able to ride tempo for Leipheimer for almost the entire length of stage two. Sure he was tired at the end of the day, but there was no doubt that if he had to, the veteran all-arounder could have done another stage of equal length on the same day.
While watching Armstrong and his teammates down in new Mexico, take notice of how easy they make it look. Winning a bike race is supposed to be hard, but Leipheimer is breezing through the race completely stress free. "Having fun" as he puts it. Leipheimer, and all of the other Pro Tour riders competing are truly the best of the best. To allow them to ride in the domestic peloton is not only unfair, but against the rules. Sure it would be nice to have Armstrong and other top pros at all American events, but not at cost to the guys that are here week in and week out. If a Pro Tour rider wants to race in a domestic race, have them ride a bike weighing 25 pounds or more. Perhaps then the playing field would level off a bit.